(This review may contain some mild SPOILERS with regards to the early part of the game and characters)
Starting any new game can be a daunting prospect and this is particularly true of an RPG. Unlike many recent AAA releases, Dragon Age: Inquisition doesn’t roll up to the finish line after ten or twelve hours. To see the credits roll, expect to have invested at least thirty hours if rushing through the game or more likely fifty-plus to absorb all that this fantasy yarn has to offer.
Set a year after the end of Dragon Age 2, the story revolves around Evelyn (depending on the player’s initial choices), an accidental hero thrust from a magical green rift in the Fade, bequeathed a special ability to close them. Initially thought of as a potential criminal in the death of the revered holy mother of the Divine and worshiper of Andraste, it soon becomes apparent, much to the distrust of the powers in charge, that to save the world Evelyn must use her unwanted powers to close the massive rifts scattered throughout the land.
Such things are never as simple in practice as they are on paper, however, and the path through Inquisition‘s story has many twists and turns. Here we have a tale of mystery, of politics, of deceit, of fantasy, of romance and even comedy; this is perhaps what makes BioWare’s epics so very enjoyable to experience. For those who’ve played the previous games, there are plenty of back references that will make more sense but it’s certainly not an essential prerequisite for playing this one.
The player’s interaction with the story’s different characters is a very deeply woven fabric. Each character has a huge history to explore through interactive dialogue and hours can be lost just uncovering them. These exchanges are aided greatly by the exceedingly fantastic voice acting of even minor NPCs, one of whom it was surprising to find didn’t finish with “Hi-de-Hi” (it turned out it wasn’t Ruth Maddock). BioWare have employed the talents of distinguished actors including Miranda Raison, Sumalee Montano, Freddie Prinze Jr, Ramon Tikaram, James Norton, Claudia Black and Robyn Addison who portrays perhaps one of the most fun characters ever to exist in the DA universe, Sera. She is a devilish little imp of Elvish decent who speaks in such an interesting way that spending time with her is an absolute pleasure.
It becomes apparent very quickly that Inquisition is a beautiful looking game. A great deal of effort has clearly been spent on further improvements to the engine driving the look and animations of the faces of the people of Thedas (with a couple of minor exceptions). Pores of the skin, sparkles in the eyes and the subtlest of nuance in facial expressions as people speak make things all the more believable.
The cut scenes have been done in such a way that they feel very cinematic, with sliding cameras, cutaways, two shot close-ups and fly away setups matching anything Hollywood can muster. Things still look incredible in the larger world with incidental items such as rats around dead bodies and birds of paradise scattering as the party noisily approaches, along with some sublime lighting, that gives things extra depth visually. The graphical prowess of the PS4 has certainly been put to good use.
The musical score from Trevor Morris is equally praiseworthy, adding fittingly to what’s going on onscreen, whether that be battles with demons or special moments between characters. And, yes, it is possible to have romantic relationships with a number of the ensemble whether they be male or female, gay or straight. Pursuit of these is progressed by selecting the heart icons in the dialogue wheel which will ultimately lead to naughty nakedness. BioWare hasn’t stepped back from the adult themes and this is reflected by the visuals and the vocals – there are plenty of curse words liberally spread throughout the game accompanied by many violent acts and vast torrents of red sauce, so those with sensitivities to such things might want to stay away.
Whilst it is easy to wax lyrical on the finesse of BioWare’s engaging character interaction and story, Inquisition is not an easy game to get into. The first few hours can definitely be described as a bit of a grind as the title introduces the player to a number of gameplay concepts, including the combat and this aspect of the game isn’t particularly endearing. Battles feel more like a chore; a nuisance that gets in the way of story advancement as the party makes its way from point A to point B. It rarely seems like the player is controlling the troops when fighting the somewhat limited different types of enemies, even with the introduction of the tactical overhead time controlled mode. This can be entered into at any time by hitting the PS4’s touchpad, pausing the action and allowing the player to set up commands and plan attacks – this is also the best way to use recovery potions as sometimes the controls are a little sluggish to respond in real time. It still isn’t ideal.
Not all battles feel soulless though; the initial meeting of one of the dragons, which will likely result in the death of the entire party on first try, eventually turn into quite an epic onslaught with a feeling of accomplishment once the beast finally drops to the floor. The loot gathered from defeating foes is worth collecting, along with plenty of other resources scattered throughout the land, as these can be sold for gold or transformed into better and unique weapons and armour. It’s also worth dropping valuables into the creature research workshop as these remnants can be used to make fighting similar enemies easier in the future.
There are many such systems in the game which can aid the player’s progress; much time will be spent in the war room, plotting political moves and pushing the story forward. New areas are unlocked by sending scouts out on the map and additionally, tasking Evelyn’s three main advisors with missions (Josephine, Cullen and Leliana) can mean gaining resources, schematics, favours and quests. It’s necessary to complete a number of side quests in order to gain political influence, an upshot of which is special inquisition perks – these can help with experience gains for levelling, resource gathering, the amount of stuff you can carry and even getting in to places you might not otherwise venture. It’s worth bearing in mind that unless a rogue, mage and warrior is included in the adventure party, access to some areas can be tricky as certain scenery requires a particular ability related to class in order to get through it.
It can take a while for different areas of the game to open up and whilst the world is big and gorgeous to look at, especially in places such as the Storm Coast, exploring them doesn’t feel that fulfilling compared to something like Skyrim – it maybe because different lands aren’t connected, so moving between them includes quite a lengthy loading screen at times. There is plenty to discover though, such as camps (useful), merchants (less so), dungeons, rifts, ocularums, astrariums, claimable landmarks and a number of extra well hidden artifacts, though this leads to the game’s other most notable irk; both the mini-map and more detailed world view don’t make it very easy to navigate through the landscapes. It’s quite possible, in fact a fairly regular occurrence, to end up on the wrong side of a game wall leading to the need to traverse back over well-walked paths in order to reach that blue glowing waypoint.
Despite these niggles, Dragon Age: Inquisition is a joy to play once that very laborious first couple of hours goes by and it’s definitely worth persevering with in order to experience the fabulous story and the characters within it. Whilst the combat and levelling system isn’t quite as well realised as the narrative, it never gets in the way of progress and definitely becomes less chore like as the party’s abilities grow. There is so much to do and experience here, that the game absolutely provides its money’s worth, including a multiplayer aspect as yet untouched on top of this – a properly polished AAA title and a must play for any and all RPG fans.